Catholic Guilt Erased by N.W.
“Do you promise to take this man, for better or worse, in sickness and health, until death do you part?”
"Yes," I heard myself saying.
Forty-two years later, I still find it difficult to admit, deep down, even then, I questioned my response. Even then, truth be told, I knew his tendency toward erratic, and outright mean, behavior.
As a cradle Catholic, I didn’t believe divorce was an option.
I had promised to love and honor even through the bad times. Unfortunately, all I knew were bad times. The frequent temper tantrums resulted in breaking dishes, lamps—-anything he could throw. I was determined to make the marriage work, to show that I could save him and save us. I insisted on marriage counseling, non-religious, since my spouse was not a member of any religious denomination. Within a short period of time, we were asked to leave. I was told my spouse needed individual counseling before we could begin to consider marriage counseling.
There were several significant events that ultimately forced me to realize that I had to escape for my sake, and that of my child. I will never forget the day my three-year-old daughter asked me “How come my daddy isn’t like other daddies?” When I asked her what she meant, her response was simple, showing her awareness of what I had failed to admit to myself: “My daddy is angry all the time.”
Eventually we separated and I began divorce proceedings. These moves forced my husband to seek help, and a psychiatrist prescribed Lithium. My husband moved back in with me and things seemed normal for a while. I got pregnant again. But after six months he decided he didn’t like the side effects of the Lithium and quit taking it. When I was several months pregnant, something set him off and he began punching my stomach. The next morning, I had bleeding. This scared me to death.
Shortly afterwards, I encountered the final push I needed.
At Mass, the sermon was on prayer. The priest spoke about how everyone prays to God for something they want, as I had done for so many years. I kept telling God I had made a commitment, and all He had to do was give me some small sign of hope for our marriage. The priest said simply. “Maybe if you think God is not answering your prayers, you’re not listening. Maybe you don’t like the answer you are hearing.”
Right then and there, I said one more prayer. “Please, God, show me what I should do. I promise this time I will hear you. I will listen.” I went home from church and almost immediately, some minor thing set off my husband in a lamp-flying, dish-throwing tirade. The answer was clear.
I scheduled an appointment with the priest who had given the sermon. He was kind and non-judgmental. He explained what the church’s position on marriage was. The church considers a marriage a union of two people who love each other and treat each other with respect, he told me. The church does not believe someone should suffer at the hands of an abuser. The degrading abusive, relationship I was in was not a marriage in the eyes of the church. This man of the cloth erased any Catholic guilt.
By now, I was near term with my pregnancy. The stress was nearly unbearable, but I wanted to hang on until the baby was born. When my daughter was two months old, the final straw broke. After another tantrum, my husband called my father and told him he had better come and pick me up. He told my dad to hurry, or he wouldn’t recognize me when he got there. That night I called the police, had them stand outside while I gathered my children and a few things, and left for my parent’s house.
I have never had a single regret about my decision.
I still attend the Catholic Church. I respect the advice and insight given that day at my church. I appreciate that the church seems to have warmed to plight of adults who have faced the pain of divorce. The Catholic Church presently offers grief counseling and a listening ear through Stephen’s Ministers. I am thankful that the church now practices what it has preached for so many years—forgiveness and acceptance.
Linda’s note: N.H. tells me this marriage was annulled and she later married a non-Catholic in the church.
Do you have a divorce experience to share? Have you been shamed by a church because of your divorce? There are hurting people who need to hear your story, who need to know they are not alone, and who need to be encouraged. If you are interested in sharing your story, email Linda for guidelines: Linda@LindaMKurth.com